Steak or scallops? Hospitals add luxuries to attract the well-heeled

By Myung Oak Kim

Concierge service. Jacuzzi tubs. Bacon-wrapped scallops or New York strip steak prepared by professionally-trained chefs and brought to your room.

These amenities can be found at most new hospitals in Colorado and across the country. Gone are the days of sterile, white hallways, fluorescent lights and cloth curtains separating patients in the same room. The newest hospitals offer bountiful natural light, warm-colored walls and floors, soothing art and private patient rooms with large windows and relaxation videos.

Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree features fireplaces on every floor. Childrens Hospital Colorado in Aurora offers video games in patient rooms. The cafeteria at the new $435 million St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood includes a soda machine that can make 100 different types of drinks.

Its a far cry from the old days, said St. Anthony spokeswoman Bev Lilly. The new hospital includes stone archways, heated sidewalks, flat-screen televisions and a grand piano donated by volunteers. It was designed with the latest technology and features to be more energy efficient and to provide the maximum comfort for patients, she said.

The transformation in hospital design reflects several larger trends in American health care. First, federal privacy regulations and the need to stem the spread of infections have driven the move to providing individual patient rooms. Second, new studies show that soothing design, art and natural light creating what is known as healing environments improves patient outcomes.

Third, hospitals need to compete for the most profitable segment of the health care market: patients with commercial insurance and disposable income to pay for extra amenities. These patients are more likely today to shop around for the latest and greatest in technology and comfort before choosing a facility, especially for non-emergency and outpatient procedures.

Steven Summer

Steven Summer, president and CEO of the Colorado Hospital Association, said there are many reasons why hospitals build attractive new facilities.

There are clinical reasons to do these things. There are patient-safety reasons to do these things. Theres also the need to respond to the needs of their customers, Summer said. The kind of patients that hospitals want to attract are those that have the choice of where to go. They have commercial insurance as opposed to Medicare or Medicaid. Hospitals will go out of business if they are just serving government patients.

Profits soaring

Hospitals also can afford to add these features. Hospitals in the Denver Metro area nearly doubled their profit between 2008 and 2009, bringing in more than $740 million in pre-tax net income, the highest revenues in years, according to independent analyst Allen Baumgarten. Baumgarten believes the trend toward increased profits continued in 2010.

HealthONE is the largest and most profitable health system in the region. In 2003, HealthONE opened Sky Ridge Medical Center, a new hospital on 57 acres of unused land off of I-25 and C-470. The first hospital built in Douglas County, Sky Ridge has grown quickly, adding 80 patient beds, expanding the intensive care unit twice and adding wings for cardiac and spine and joint outpatient procedures since it opened less than eight years ago.

Sky Ridge features sage-colored walls, skylights and rocking chairs. The hospital provides a wide array of amenities and services, including pet visits, afternoon tea for new mothers and amenity suites larger patient rooms with Jacuzzi tubs and other features for patients who are willing to pay more during their stay. Linda Watson, spokeswoman for Sky Ridge, said patients expect more today from a hospital environment, she said.

I dont think fancy is what were going for, Watson said. What we are going for is comfortable and healing.

Sky Ridge benefits from not being close to competition. The Denver market is a different story, especially in pediatric care. After Childrens Hospital (now called Childrens Hospital Colorado) moved to the Anschutz Campus in Aurora in 2007, HealthONE opened a new Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in 2010 at the Presbyterian St. Lukes campus. Both new, modern facilities, the two hospitals are battling for patients and physicians.

Amenities costs insignificant

The transformation of hospitals into hotel-like environments is happening at a time when health care costs are increasing each year. Baumgarten said the costs of building new facilities and providing amenities eventually get shifted to the consumer through higher insurance premiums or provider charges.

Summer denies that amenities drive up costs for consumers. He said the largest cost in health care is for staffing. Hospitals devote most of their money to salaries, technology, new equipment and pharmaceuticals. Installing and maintaining fireplaces in a hospital is insignificant compared to the total cost of the facility, he said. And some amenities, such as the new grand piano at St. Anthonys in Lakewood, are donated. The notion that amenities for amenities sake are driving up health care costs is a fallacy, he said.

DiAnn Sherk, director of interior design at Boulder Associates, which designs health care facilities across the country,

DiAnn Sherk


Sherk said hospital administrators focus on building facilities that make patients feel relaxed, help them recover and accommodate family members. She said hospitals are using more elements of design that have been used in hotels, but the amenities are a minor cost compared to the technology and staffing.

I dont see extravagance, Sherk said. I think our clients are very budget-conscious. They are very considerate about cost and the rising cost of healthcare. They dont want to go overboard by any means.